Why I Only Use Skin Care That Comes In Ugly Packaging

In sex-ed class at my all-girls Catholic high school, we read a book that used shampoo to make the case for saving yourself for marriage. The argument was this: You'd never buy a pretty, pink bottle of shampoo just because it was pretty and pink — that'd be impulsive and risky. Before you invested, you'd need to find out whether it was a worthy, top quality product. So, by that logic, why would you hop in bed with the first hottie that caught your eye?
I remember raising my hand and telling the teacher that her point was completely ridiculous. Of course I would buy something based off nothing other than the fact that it's pretty and pink — hell, throw some glitter into the mix and I'll pay double. Not to mention, how could one possibly know if the shampoo is worth committing to without taking it for a spin?
Needless to say, I threw the "no sex until marriage" thing out the window a long time ago. But it was only recently that I finally stopped judging products by their appearance. I no longer favor oils in artisanal glass flacons and luxurious creams in heavy weighted jars. In fact, I've gone in the opposite direction: I only want ugly skin care.
More often than not, the products in the blah containers you'd make sure to move out of the way before taking your Top Shelf Instagram are the ones with the most science behind them. (There's a reason you won't find pretty products in any dermatologist's office, ever.) The brands spend money on ingredients, not packaging or advertising, and it shows on your face after a few weeks. Once I dipped my toes in the ugly product waters, the floodgates opened and before I knew it, my bathroom looked like a hospital's storage cabinet.
Of course, I'm still tempted by the call of the tiny bottle of crystal-infused facial moisturizer made in Woodstock by a sheep-herding yoga instructor, but I don't go home with it anymore. I'm older and more mature, and I can admit that I was wrong that day in the classroom: When it comes to skin care, ignore what's on the outside and research the shit out of what's on the inside. Now if only I could stop wasting my time on Wilhelmina models on Raya...
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Here are three reasons why this clinical-looking serum is divisive among those in the know: The jelly-like liquid looks a little like congealed blood. It smells pretty funky. And it once got Oprah in hot water with anti-circumcision activists because it uses human fibroblast conditioned media, a growth factor derived from neonatal foreskin. But here is why I don't give a fuck about any of that: It's the closest topical product I've found to Botox, which is not something I throw around lightly.

The potent (and controversial) growth factor stimulates collagen synthesis and anti-aging genes within the skin to plump, smooth lines, tighten sagginess, and heal wounds — a claim many products make, but none noticeably deliver on. I'd bathe in the stuff if I could, but instead, I save it to use three months after my last Botox appointment, when the neurotoxin is wearing off and my two forehead lines are reappearing. By the time I reach the halfway mark on the bottle, I'm always in awe of my skin tone and the fact that the lines have disappeared again.

SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum, $281, available at Dermstore.
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I don't always break out, but when I do, it's a single, massive, painful, under-the-skin pimple in the middle of my face. Dermatologist Zein Obagi, MD, is a leader in treating acne of all types, but especially serious cystic acne, and so his are the products I turn to the minute I sense one of those suckers forming. I'm not sure what the secret is with these pads — like so many others, they have 2% salicylic acid and glycolic acid — but they work best for me at preventing the pimple from forming in the first place and seriously cutting down the usual healing time.

ZO Skin Health Offects TE-Pads Acne Pore Treatment, $51, available at ZO Skin Health.
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A body wash over $6 is a tough sell, so a $40 one that doesn't look or smell anything like the Byredo option seems downright ridiculous. I hear you. And yet, if you're prone to body breakouts, or shaving irritation, or just hate the thought of buffing brown-sugar-vanilla-pomegranate-scented soap into your pores, I'm going to go ahead and argue that this one is worth it. (After all, you'd treat your facial skin to a nice cleanser — why not your body?) It's got glycolic acid to exfoliate, vitamin E to moisturize, and vitamin C to brighten discoloration. After two weeks of daily showers with it, my skin is free of random bumps, and my bikini line is in tip-top form.

VI Derm Exfoliating Body Wash, $40, available at Dermstore.
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Speaking of my bikini line, this product is another reason it's finally looking like it doesn't belong to a person who has picked at and scarred the area for a decade. Technically, the treatment is for skin tone issues on the face, but I've been going a little off-label, too, and using it on dark spots all over. The results have been crazy-good over a short period of time, due to the fact that it contains three potent ingredients for brightening and tone-evening: hydroquinone, kojic acid, and retinol. Hydroquinone is an intense ingredient, though, and it's not meant to be used regularly, so consult your dermatologist before starting any regimen with it.

Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Night Treatment, $68, available at Urban Skin Rx.
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This soothing, antimicrobial balm, developed for patients post-chemical peel or laser procedure, is like Aquaphor on steroids. It's significantly sped up the recovery process after my last laser tattoo removal; healed a blood blister on my finger caused by a cuticle scissor-happy manicurist; took down the pain from a curling wand burn; and served as a stellar lip balm before bed.

iS Clinical Sheald Recovery Balm, $68, available at Dermstore.
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